NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE

NOTE: Grim red soup entering the Connecticut at the Rock Dam from FirstLight’s failing riverbanks December 22, 2020. This is the most biologically important endangered species site in the entire ecosystem, as well as one of longstanding cultural and historic import. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE from The Greenfield Recorder January 4, 2021

NOTE: Randy Kehler was kind enough to honor my work with several mentions in the essay below. More importantly, he makes his own eloquent statements about the inherent dignity and right to life of New England’s river–as well as highlighting the decades of abject failures to act from river groups who’ve long-claimed public trust ownership for the river’s safeguarding and have miserably failed to act in its behalf. Please see Randy Kehler’s text below, followed by my Recorder essay it refers to from December 12, 2020.

The weekend Recorder of Dec. 12 featured yet another passionate, well-documented“My Turn” essay by Karl Meyer (“The selling of New England’s River”) about the ongoing destructive impact on the Connecticut River’s animals (especially fish) and plants —and on the river itself —of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain hydro-electric facilities owned and operated by the Canada-based First Light Corporation, a “Canadian-owned, subsidiary of venture capital giant PSP Investments.”

Prompted by Karl’s essay, I ask myself why little or nothing (certainly nothing effective) continues to be done to protect “New England’s River” — surely the most prominent and precious natural feature of this region —and stop this ongoing desecration that Karl describes. Where are the citizen lobby efforts, the educational campaigns, the petitions,the protests, the acts of nonviolent civil disobedience that have successfully challenged other corporate assaults on our local and regional environment (e.g., local tri-state opposition to the Entergy Corporation’s radioactive Vermont Yankee “nuke” and, more recently, Western Massachusetts towns’ united opposition to the Kinder Morgan Corporation’s natural gas pipeline project)? In short, why are we putting up with the continuing abuse of “New England’s River”?

Perhaps we need to join the growing movement called the “Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN)” that’s taking hold in countries around the world and in various communities here in the U.S., a movement that recognizes that our ecosystem—including animals, forests, oceans, rivers, mountains, etc. —have god-given rights just as human beings have god-given rights. Both Ecuador and Bolivia, at the initiative of their indigenous populations, have recently amended their constitutions to include the “Rights of Nature,” thus guaranteeing legal protections for rain forests and other natural features under assault from corporate exploitation.

Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the globe, and in a growing number of communities here in the U.S. The “Rights of Nature” concept doesn’t deny the rights of humans; it’s about balancing what is good for human beings with what is good for other species, and what is good for the earth as a whole. It’s based on the holistic recognition that all life forms on our planet, human and non-human, are deeply intertwined and dependent on each other —a recognition the lack (or denial) of which has clearly given rise to the escalating global climate crisis bearing down on us today with increasingly destructive force.

According to the “Rights of Nature” website (www.theRightsOfNature.org): “Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights of Nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. And we —the people —have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the injured party, with its own ‘legal standing’ rights, in cases alleging rights violations. “By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador—and a growing number of communities in the United States —are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do.

This premise is a radical but natural departure from the assumption that nature is ‘property ’ under the law.”
For indigenous cultures around the world, recognizing the rights of nature is simply recognizing reality, a reality consistent with their traditions of living in harmony with nature. All life, including human life, is deeply connected. Decisions and values are based on what is good for the whole.
Nonetheless, for millennia legal systems around the world have treated land and nature as “property. ” Laws and contracts are written to protect the property rights of individuals, corporations and other legal entities. As such environmental protection laws actually legalize environmental harm by regulating how much pollution or destruction of nature can occur within the law. Under such law, nature and all of its non-human elements have no standing.”

Passing far-reaching new laws, let alone amending constitutions at the state or federal levels, is bound to be a time-consuming effort. But there’s no reason why in the meantime we can’t start practicing the “Rights of Nature” as a “community ethic” right now —focusing first and foremost on the right of “New England’s River” to be respected and protected. Our planet Earth is rightfully regarded as our “mother ” —“Mother Earth.” By the same token, the Connecticut River should rightfully be regarded as New England’s “Mother River”—and thus honored and protected. Thank you, Karl Meyer, for repeatedly sounding the alarm and awakening us to this reality.

Randy Kehler and his wife Betsy Corner, after 40-plus years in Colrain, have recently moved to Shelburne Falls.

THE SELLING OF NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER

NOTE: Part of the failing riverbank leakage of the grim pollution entering the shortnose sturgeon spawning pool at Rock Dam and the Connecticut at the FirstLight site on January 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

THE SELLING OF NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER from The Greenfield Recorder 12/12/2020

By KARL MEYER

On Nov. 12 FirstLight and broker Energy New England sent out a paid press release with a Twitter link on Businesswire: “21 New England Municipal Electric Utilities Commit to Historic Purchase of Clean Power From First-Light Through ENE.” Formatted like news, it hyped agreements —overwhelmingly to eastern Massachusetts towns, for future electricity exports. It boasted big complex numbers, long-term megawatts and clean, renewable hydropower sales to towns 100 miles from the source. Factually, if all that hyped power was directed to the coastal town of Hingham (pop. circa 23,000) on that list, all 20 others, including tiny outliers in Vermont and Rhode Island, would be left in the dark.

FirstLight never mentioned it hadn’t secured a long-term license for diverting flows from the public’s Connecticut River to produce future electricity. That remains many months in the future. On Nov. 12 it hadn’t even submitted a final application to the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission (FERC) requesting the privilege. The AP picked up that release, though it flagged it as paid content. It spiraled all over the web looking like reporting. What further blurred the perception line between the public press and private interests was state Rep. Tom Golden, chair of the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. He’s quoted in that paid release touting FirstLight’s export deal as representing the “significant
expansion of their procurement of renewable and carbon-free electricity, produced right here in Massachusetts.” This was odd corporate coziness amidst a FERC relicensing. Was a fix in?

This Dec. 5, a headline under “Staff Report” ran in the Recorder: “Public power entities in three states commit to clean energy purchase from FirstLight.” As reporting, it appeared much like a recycling of that paid press release —but now with quotes from First-Light’s website. For federal and state agencies working within the FERC licensing process these last eight years on flows to restore a river massively exploited by Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain facilities for half a century that deal was a slap in the face. Over 18 months ago FirstLight exited settlement negotiations with those agencies over flows —yet here was FirstLight cutting eastern Massachusetts deals for over 40% of the generating capacity of their river-gorging diversions.

It echoed a grim 1970s plan to plunder more of the river’s aquatic life. The Metropolitan District Commission and NU-WMECO planned to use the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage project as a spigot to supplement over consumption of local water supplies and freshwater tables in eastern Massachusetts towns —even as their municipal systems were leaking like sieves.
Billions of gallons the Connecticut’s flow would be sucked into NMPS’s giant, fish-killing apparatus and piped east to the Quabbin Reservoir, then to metro Boston. But the Conservation Law Foundation’s Alexandra Dawson, Massachusetts Audubon’s Robie Hubley and conservationist Terry Blunt organized public meetings and spoke to reporters. They thwarted that scheme —in work that ultimately morphed into the MA Interbasin Transfer Act of 1983. It prevents exporting flows out of one river basin to service distant towns in another—until overuse, leaks and local supply measures are all implemented. It lets rivers live.

FirstLight is the latest exploiter of New England’s river here. Since2001 that’s included NU-WMECO, Northeast Generation Services, Energy Capital Partners, GDF-Suez, Engie, PSP Investments, and First-Light. Rep. Golden didn’t mention FirstLight is a Canadian-owned subsidiary of venture capital giant PSP Investments, who arrived four years ago to buy up the grimmest, ecosystem crippling machinery on the entire 410-mile river. Their investment scheme now twists 350 miles south before heading back to Canada. In December 2018 they pulled their facilities from commonwealth rolls and registered them as Delaware LLC tax shelters.

FirstLight’s deals occurred while the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife were all kept in the dark. Today they remain muzzled from accessing the media about relicensing specifics —due to confidentiality agreements First-Light demanded years back to allow participation in now long-stalled settlement talks. FirstLight’s facilities are key factors in spawning failure for the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Its failing river banks, just 100 yards from the power canal, continue eroding into critical river habitat today.

FirstLight Vice President Thomas Kaslow testified in Washington to continue banning media access to the meetings of NEPOOL—the monopoly-dominated New England Power Producers association that steers ISO —New England. They’re no friend of a free press. New Englanders are due facts about how FirstLight’s diversions and massive fish-devouring pumped storage machine stunt and obliterate the life of a four-state ecosystem and how they’ll end that year-round carnage before any FERC licenses get issued.

Karl Meyer, a Greenfield resident, has served on the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for river facilities here since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.